3. Smyrna -- The Suffering ChurchRelated Media
Editor's Note: a lightly edited transcription of the attached audio file will be found at the end of this originally written daily study guide. Appreciation for this transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.
Smyrna was a seaport city about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It has been described as the most beautiful of the seven cities. Today it is called Izmir, Turkey. Scripture does not give us any information concerning the founding of this church, nor is it mentioned in the book of Acts. Presumably, this church was founded during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).1
“The Greek word translated ‘Smyrna’ was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for myrrh, a resinous substance used as a perfume for the living (Matthew 2:11) and the dead (John 19:39). Its association with death perfectly pictures the suffering church at Smyrna. Like myrrh, produced by crushing a fragrant plant, the church at Smyrna, crushed by persecution, gave off a fragrant aroma of faithfulness to God.”2
This was a message meant to encourage them in light of what they were facing presently and were about to face in the future. The church at Smyrna was to undergo some intense persecution and tribulation. Jesus wanted to encourage them to stand strong, even if it meant physical death.
Be encouraged as you study the message sent to this church. Ask God to strengthen your faith so that you can endure the suffering in your own life more victoriously.
DAY 1: THE DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:8-11 (Our focus will be on verse 8 today, but read the entire letter to get an overview.)
1. How is Jesus described in verse 8 and which attribute(s) of God does His description emphasize? (Notice the similarities to the description of Christ in 1:17-18).
2. Why would this description of Christ be especially encouraging for this church?
3. How do these verses affirm Christ’s equality with God?
4. How do these verses help us understand the meaning of Christ as He “who was dead, and has come to life”?
1 Peter 3:18
II. Looking Upward
5. Which attributes of God most comfort you in the midst of trials and why?
6. Have you experienced suffering in your life where it was difficult for a time to stand firm? How did you handle the situation?
III. Looking Deeper
How would these verses encourage you in the midst of tough times?
IV. Looking Reflectively
“When fear grips the human heart, and our very life is threatened, nothing can bring tranquility like faith in Him who is both the first and the last.”3
Take some time to praise God for who He is in light of the Scripture you read today.
DAY 2: THE COMMENDATION
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:9
1. What three things did Jesus mention that He was aware of concerning the church at Smyrna?
2. What does He mean when he refers to their being rich in the midst of poverty? How does 2 Corinthians 6:10; 8:9 and James 2:5 shed light on this?
3. Why are these blaspheming Jews referred to as a “synagogue of Satan”? (How does Romans 2:28-29 relate to this?)
Note: Jesus’ use of the strong term blasphemy, which was usually reserved for hostile words against God, indicates the slander’s wickedness, intensity, and severity.4
II. Looking Upward
4. In what ways are you rich in Christ? (Ephesians 1 is a good reminder of our riches in Christ.)
5. How have you seen God use trials and suffering in your life?
6. How would you encourage someone who is being persecuted for his faith or going through a tough time?
III. Looking Deeper
Look at the conversation between Jesus and the Jews in John 8:31-47. List reasons why those Jews were not considered “real Jews” in Jesus’ eyes.
How does this compare with the strong terminology Jesus uses in Rev 2:9?
IV. Looking Reflectively
God is very much aware of all that is going on in your life and is not surprised by anything.
Is there something difficult going on in your life today? God knows and He cares for you. Hand over those difficult and overwhelming situations to the One who knows and cares. Rest in His presence.
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.” - Psalm 37:7
DAY 3: THE ADMONITION
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:10a
1. What did the future hold for the church at Smyrna and what would be the purpose?
2. Christians are not exempt from suffering. What are some reasons God allows suffering in our lives?
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
3. They already were in the midst of tribulation (v. 9) and Jesus had no rebuke or condemnation for them. Why would there be a need to be tested further?
4. What do these verses imply about persecution and the believer?
2 Timothy 3:12
II. Looking Upward
5. Why does God allow Satan to bring tribulation in our lives if God is ultimately in control? (Look also at the story of Job in Job 1.)
6. How do you respond to suffering and tribulation? What helps you endure?
III. Looking Deeper
How would these verses encourage you to persevere in the midst of tribulation and suffering?
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
1 Peter 5:10
IV. Looking Reflectively
“Suffering either gives me my self or it destroys my self. If you receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.” – Oswald Chambers5
As believers, we should expect persecution and suffering in this life. Allow it to deepen your relationship with Christ, not push you away from Him.
How have you “suffered” on this earth?
Spend some time thanking Jesus for what He endured for us.
DAY 4: THE INSTRUCTION
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:10
1. What two instructions did Jesus give them concerning the upcoming tribulation?
2. How is it possible to not fear impending tribulation and suffering? What Scriptures come to your mind concerning this?
3. When Jesus refers to “the crown of life,” is He referring to eternal life or to a reward for those who are faithful through tribulation on this earth? Explain your answer.
4. What additional insight do these verses give concerning the “crown of life”?
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
II. Looking Upward
5. What does it mean to “be faithful until death”?
6. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, what are some “lessons for life” concerning suffering?
III. Looking Deeper
The “crown of life” is one of several “crowns” mentioned in Scripture. What are the other “crowns” and to what are they referring?
1 Thessalonians 2:19
2 Timothy 4:6-8
1 Peter 5:4
According to Revelation 4:9-11, what are “crowns” ultimately for?
IV. Looking Reflectively
“Faith and fear are opposites. They cannot coexist. Faith banishes fear.”6
We are called to be faithful, even if it means death.
Is there anything in your life that is causing you to be fearful? Give it to the Lord, trust His hand, and look ahead to the blessings that await you eternally.
DAY 5: THE PROMISE
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:11
1. What does He promise to the one who overcomes?
2. According to Revelation 20:14-15 and 21:8, what is the “second death” and who would experience it?
3. What else do we learn about those over whom the second death has no power according to Revelation 20:6?
4. Why would this promise be especially encouraging for the church at Smyrna?
II. Looking Upward
5. How would Jesus’ words in Luke 12:4-7 encourage someone about to suffer for his faith?
6. Do you fear God more than people? Are you a God pleaser more than a people pleaser? If so, how is that evident in your life?
III. Looking Deeper
Read 1 Peter 5:6-11
What similarities to Revelation 2:8-11 do you see in this passage?
Read Revelation 12:9-11
Satan had plans to cast some of the Smyrna church into prison. How is Satan described in this passage and how does he work against believers?
How do believers overcome him?
IV. Looking Reflectively
We can have confidence as believers that we will spend eternity with God and not face the second death.
Are you secure concerning your eternal destiny? If not, talk to your small group leader or myself, and we will be glad to answer any questions. If so, pray for those who don’t know Christ and don’t have eternal security.
“You and I and our congregation may not be a Smyrna church just now. But we do experience our own pressures, suffering, and afflictions. And whenever we do, the vision of Jesus standing among us in all His glory, and the words of promise He speaks, will sustain and guide us.”7s="bodytext">Ask God what He wants to teach you from this letter to the church at Smyrna. What is one area in your life you may want to focus on?
Introduction to the message for Lesson 3: Smyrna, The Suffering Church [Begin Transcription]
I hope you all have had a great week studying about suffering. I want to begin by asking you a question. What season of life are you in today? Maybe you are in a season that everything is going great and you are just loving life. Things are smooth. You are so in love with the Lord. Every day there is just a wonderful surprise and you are just in a great season of life. But, maybe there are some of you who are in a very difficult season of life. Life is not going so great. You are struggling. Life is hard. Maybe you are dealing with an illness. Maybe someone you love is hurting. Maybe you have a financial issue. Maybe someone in your family is causing you some grief. Whatever it is, it is a hard season of life. Well, you know, God never promises us as a believer that life is going to always be fun. He never promises us that life is just going to be great. As a matter of fact, He promises us that if you are a believer, you will face suffering and you will have some persecution in your life (2 Tim. 3:12). It is not a question of, “will you suffer?” The question is, “how will you handle it when it comes?”
Throughout the history of the Church the more that the Church has been persecuted the greater its purity and strength. I lived in mainland China for four years and during those four years I studied the Chinese language of Mandarin. I had the opportunity while I lived there to visit in the homes of some Chinese believers who had undergone some serious persecution for their faith during the years of the Cultural Revolution.
We would go and sit in their homes. They would tell us about their relationship with the Lord and they would tell us about the things they had endured during the Cultural Revolution because of their faith in Christ. We would be amazed at their love for God and just the depth of their walk with him. Then, they would want to pray with us. You would listen to these believers pray and you would just think they are on a different level than we are. I never wanted to open my mouth to pray because my words seemed so shallow compared to the prayers of these godly men and women who had suffered greatly.
We would always leave and say, “you know I want that kind of relationship with God! I want that kind of depth. I want that kind of prayer life.” But then we would always say, “I don’t want to go through what they went through.” You see, the road to getting there is through suffering.
I will be the first to admit to you that I do not like to suffer. I do not like it when life is hard. My human flesh cries out and I will do everything I can to avoid it. But, if we are really serious about going deeper, suffering is part of that process. Every time that God has taken me through a difficult period of life, whether it is just a trial or suffering, I can always look back after it is over and go, “yes, Lord, I see how You used that in my life. I am so thankful.” But, in the process, when I am in the middle of it, it is hard to find joy in why He has me there. He casts us in the fires of trial in order to refine us and strengthen our character. We need to look beyond the trial. We need to look beyond the pain and look for that purpose that He wants to accomplish in our life. We need to look for that end result. We will suffer in this life. The Bible tells us that. The challenge for us is to suffer well.
Today, we look at the letter to the church at Smyrna, a church known for suffering. Smyrna is the Greek word for myrrh, a flagrant perfume used in burial. Many believe that this church represents the martyrs of all the ages and the sweet-smelling fragrance of their faithfulness until death. There was no rebuke for this church and because they were faithful until death, their candlestick has never been removed. Christianity has never completely left this city. It is the only one of the seven cities still in flourishing condition. I have a picture of modern day Smyrna in contrast to Ephesus which, today, is a deserted ruin with no people. Smyrna is still a large seaport with the present population of about 275,000 people. Today, it is known as Izmir, Turkey.
Well, Smyrna lay 40 miles almost due north of Ephesus. It was the loveliest of all the cities. It was exceptionally wealthy. Scripture does not record the founding of the church of Smyrna. It is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible other than these four verses, but it is believed it is with the other churches that were founded while Paul spent two years in Ephesus on his third missionary journey.
Five Elements To Remember For Suffering Well
Go ahead and turn with me to Revelation 2. As we look at this letter to Smyrna, this letter gives us insight into suffering. It reminds us of five things that we must remember if we are going to suffer well.
1. The Ultimate Victor Is Jesus
The first thing we have to remember if we are going to suffer well is that the ultimate victor is Jesus Christ. Look at Revelation 2:8 with me,
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: (NASB)
Jesus Christ is the eternal God. He has always existed. He always will exist. Even though He died, He conquered death and He rose again. This will give great comfort to this church because this was a church that was going to be persecuted. It was already being persecuted. They might face death. Jesus thus says in effect, “you know what, I know what it is like to be persecuted by your enemies. I know what it is like to face death at their hands. I understand.” He can walk right through it with them. Even if these believers face death at the hand of the persecutors, it is not the end for them. It is just the beginning because He is the victor and He conquered death. If we are going to suffer well, the first thing we have to remember is that Jesus Christ is the ultimate victor. My exhortation for us with this is that we should be thankful. Be thankful that He did this that He died for us.
2. The Ultimate Test Is Suffering
Well, the second thing we need to remember is that the ultimate test is suffering. In Revelation 2:9 He says, “
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (NASB)
He begins this like He did the last letter and every letter afterward with the words, “I know.” He knows everything. He knows exactly what you are going through. He knows the suffering that you are going through. He knows the tough times. He knows what you are feeling. He mentions four ways that this church is suffering because He knows exactly how they are suffering. The first way they are suffering is through pressure. In verse 9 when He says, “I know your tribulations.” That word used here for tribulation literally means pressure. That is the idea. He is talking about that kind of pressure that comes from when you take a heavy rock and you put it on someone’s chest and you press down on their chest with all your force so that it suffocates the person. That is the kind of pressure, a suffocating pressure that they are under. Do you ever feel that way that you are under that kind of pressure that it is just going to suffocate you? Well, they were under pressure from several forces.
A. Suffering Through Pressure
One source is they were under constant pressure from the government to worship the Roman emperor because, you see, the city of Smyrna was a strong ally of Rome. The people loved the Roman government because it was strong. It was mighty. It would protect them. So, they were infatuated with the Roman government and they worshipped the emperors. At first, the emperors did not want anything to do with it, but by the time Domitian became the Roman emperor, he made it mandatory that all citizens would worship the emperor or face death. All they had to do was burn a pinch of incense and say Caesar is lord, but many of the Christians refused to do so. Because they did they were considered to be unpatriotic traitors: “you do not love Rome.” Thus they were tortured. Many were placed on the rack where they were stretched so far that their legs and their arms were pulled out of their sockets. Some were boiled alive in oil. Others roasted alive. Some suffered the Roman crucifixion, a horrible way to die. Others were taken to the Coliseum and fed to angry, hungry lions. Life was hard for these Christians. Very few of us today know that kind of pressure, but they refused to worship Caesar.
Another kind of pressure they were under was a pressure to worship the pagan gods and goddesses. You see, Smyrna had a lot of religions. There were a lot of gods and goddesses, in addition to the emperor worship. Much of Smyrna’s social life revolved around pagan worship. Christians were viewed as antisocial elitists for refusing to participate in it. “Oh, you’re too good for us. You can’t associated with us in these festivities to our gods. You are too good.” So, they were persecuted for that.
The closest that I have ever come to feeling that kind of pressure was when I was perfusionist at Texas Heart Institute in Houston. I was on staff at Texas Heart as one of the instructors through the University of Texas. Because I was on staff here and was one of the instructors, I had to go to all the parties, all the festivities, and all the graduation dinners. The pressure came with these students. Perfusionists, for some reason, or at least the ones I know, love to drink and party. I think it is a way to deal with stress in the operating room. So, I would go to these dinners hating it because all they would do was just drink and drink. They got drunk. It would be fine if they just left me alone. The problem was that it bugged them that I did not drink. So, I caught all kinds of grief, you know, comments made like: “oh, you would fit well into grandmother’s generation.” “You are really out of touch with reality today.” Just cruel comments. I had no choice. I would leave every night saying, “God, why do I have to go to these events?” because I did not feel like I was having a witness. They did not look at my life and go, “wow, I love her life!” They were looking at my life going, “what a loser, you know, she cannot even get drunk.” It was hard, but that still is not the kind of pressure that these Smyrna Christians went through.
B. Suffering Through Poverty
Well, the first type of suffering they were going through is pressure. But, the second type they were dealing with was poverty. There are two words used in the New Testament for poverty and one just kind of means poor. But, the word used here means “absolute poverty, possessing absolutely nothing.” They were not poor. They were dirt poor. They had no food. They had no means whatsoever. Their poverty was most likely due to their faith in Jesus Christ, just like the Christians in Ephesus that we talked about last week. They were hated. They were despised. The trade unions would have nothing to do with them. They were boycotted. People did not want to buy from them because they were Christians. People did not want to sell to them because they were Christians. They could not advance in jobs. Their businesses were shut down. They had no way to make a living. It was almost as if the city was trying to starve them out. They were poor. They had absolutely nothing. But, Jesus reminded them that they were poor here on this earth but you are so rich. He just reminded them that what you have in Christ is far greater than anything on this earth materially that you will have.
C. Suffering through Persecution
A third form of suffering for them was persecution in verse 9. They were being slandered by those who “say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” These Jews were physical descendants of Abraham. They were Jews by race and that is it. They had no heart for God. They had no love for God. They despised and hated Jesus Christ. The use of the strong term, “blasphemy,” here indicates how evil, how wicked, how intense this slander was. They were reporting false allegations to the government about these believers, saying things which were not true about them. For instance, telling them that they were practicing cannibalism because they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper, eating of the body of Christ, drinking His blood. “They are cannibals.” They accused them of immorality because they greeted one another with a holy kiss. It went on and on. They made up whatever they could and went to the government and they were persecuted. They were a synagogue of Satan because they were attacking the church. They were doing Satan’s will and not God’s.
D. Suffering through Prison
A fourth form of suffering that they were not facing yet, but would soon be facing (as if these first three were not enough to kill them). There was coming another form of suffering and that is prison in verse 10:
Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for 10 days.
They would be thrown into prison probably for the purpose of forcing them to worship the Roman emperor. “You will not worship the Roman emperor, then we will make you! We will throw you into prison until you do.” Whether you interpret these ten days as referring to a literal 10 days (I take that view), or whether you interpret it as referring to just a brief period of time, or whether you interpret those 10 days as referring to 10 periods of persecution under 10 Roman emperors, the point being made is the same. The trials that you are going to go through will be brief. They will only last for a moment in life of the blessings that you will have for eternity. My exhortation to you on this one is to be ready, to be ready for the suffering that will come into your life.
3. The Ultimate Enemy Is Satan
Verses 9 and 10 also go on to tell us a third thing we need to remember in order to suffer well. The third thing we need to remember is that the ultimate enemy is Satan. It may seem as if people were the enemy, the Jews in the synagogue of Satan, or the government that wants you to worship its emperor. It may seem like they are the enemy. Perhaps there are people in the church who are just trying to make life hard for you, but they are not really your enemy. The ultimate enemy is Satan and that is pointed out in these verses. It is a synagogue of Satan. These Jews were being used by him to carry out the works of Satan. Even though the people would throw them into prison, it says “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison.” He is the ultimate enemy and we need to be on guard.
I had a conversation Sunday morning before church with a good friend here. She was saying you know Crickett God has lain on my heart that because things are going so well right now that we are going to be right in the middle of some spiritual warfare soon, because Satan is not going to like what God is doing. We need to be on guard and we need to commit to pray for the church for the leaders. She is so right. Anytime there is a sense of spiritual awakening or spiritual revival or the sense of the spirit of God moving in lives I will tell you, it makes Satan scream. He does not like it and he will unleash his wrath on this church or any group of believers because he does not want you to grow. He does not want you to go deeper in God’s Word. He will do anything to stop good things that God is doing. My challenge is that we need to be on guard. We need to be ready to stay firm and to stand and resist his attacks. I have felt his warfare. I have felt it in my life whether it is just things that people say right before I get ready to teach or whether it is something that happens in preparation. You know that it is spiritual warfare where you get discouraged by things you hear said. He wants to discourage us. He does not want us to move toward spiritual revival. He wants to stop us. Another warning for us is do not let him use you. He is like a lion prowling around looking for someone he could use. He looks for people who “oh, let’s see, boy, she’s always critical.” “She is always a gossip.” “She is always kind of stirring up the pot about one of the leaders saying ‘I do not like the way he is doing this’ ‘or I do not think they should.’” Be careful, because he is looking for someone he can just grab and go, “yeah, build on that, talk that up in your church, yeah, talk about that leader. ‘Oh, I do not think she should be doing that or I do not think he should be.’” Be careful. Do not let him use you. He is an enemy who will stop at nothing. We need to really commit to pray. Let me tell you one other thing. Satan does not want believers to study the book of Revelation because he does not want you to know your eternal hope. He does not want you to know that he loses. He does not want you to know that Jesus wins and that he loses. So, there will be attacks on us to not study this Word, to not do this. Satan is the ultimate enemy. Be on guard.
4. The Ultimate Solution Is Trust
The fourth thing we need to remember is that the ultimate solution is trust. Jesus gives them two instructions in verse 10 as to how to handle this impending suffering. He says, “Do not fear.”
A. Be Fearless
The first thing He tells them is be fearless. Do not fear. Trust me. As I said in your study this week that fear and trust are opposites. You cannot do them at the same time. They cannot coexist. If I am afraid that means I am not trusting God. If I am trusting God then I should not be afraid. They cannot coexist. Do not be afraid. Just trust the One who holds your life in His hands.
B. Be Faithful
The second instruction He gives them is to be faithful until death. I Peter 4:19 instructs those who suffer according to the will of God to entrust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right. Do not be afraid. Be faithful even if it leads to your physical death.
It is believed that a man named Polycarp was the pastor of this church at Smyrna when this letter was written. He was martyred for his faith in A.D. 156. I wish I had more time to go into detail of his story. He fled briefly and then they caught him and he did not run that time. He just came in. They took him to the amphitheater where the proconsul tried over and over to persuade him to renounce his faith. “What harm can it do? Just say Caesar is lord to save your life.” And he would not do it. After repeatedly just not doing it, he said “for 86 years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king and my savior?” Well, they threatened to bring out live beasts and he said to bring them on. They said “you make light of that then we will burn you at the stake!” The Jews who hated him gathered the wood for the fire. They were going to nail him to the stake, but he said they did not have to nail me, I will stay. They just put a rope around his hands. Before they lit the fire, he prayed, “Oh Lord, almighty God, I thank you for counting me worthy of sharing the cup of Christ among the number of your martyrs. May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice.” They lit the fire, but strangely enough, the wind blew the fire away from his body so it would not touch him. Finally, one of the soldiers took his sword and he ended the life of this great martyr, Polycarp. He died for one reason: his unyielding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was faithful until death and he lost his physical life, but he gained so much more which brings us to the fifth reminder to help us suffer well.
5. The Ultimate Reward Is Life
The ultimate reward is life. In verses 10 and 11, he makes two promises. For the first He says in Revelation 2:10,
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (NASB)
A. Promise Of The Crown Of Life
The first thing He promises is that they will receive the crown of life for being faithful until death. He is not referring to eternal life here because you do not work for eternal life. It is a gift. The crown of life is a special reward for endurance in your persecution. In James 1:12, James write,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. (NASB)
This approval will take place when we as believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and He will evaluate us for all the works that we have done on this earth. That is according to I Corinthians 3:13-14 which talks about that approval, that standing before him, to be evaluated for our works. We will be rewarded for staying strong until death. The purpose of this crown or crowns is not for you. It is not for you to carry around and have them saying, “wow, look at my crown!” “Your crown is a little small there.” “Look how many I have.” These crowns are not for the purpose of making you feel good about your life on this earth because we are told in Revelation 4:10 that we will go before the throne of God and we will go on our knees and our faces before Him and we will cast our crowns at his feet. That is a way of worshipping Him, showing honor to Him. I will tell you that I do not want to stand there before the throne of God empty-handed. I do not want to simply stand there. It is like Sally and I were saying this morning. It is like going to a birthday party without a present to give to the host. Those crowns are not to make us feel good about ourselves. They are for us to give back to Him.
B. Promise Of Eternal Life
The second thing He promises is eternal life. In verse 11 he says, “He who overcomes” and again last week we talked about who the overcomer is. He who overcomes is any believer, anyone who has placed his trust in Jesus Christ as his savior. Anyone who has said I cannot earn salvation on my own so I put my faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for my sins. He is the overcomer and it says here in Revelation 2:11,
He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
It is emphatic in the Greek. It reads, “You will not in any way be hurt by the second death.” As a believer, you do have eternal life and He is saying you may suffer the first death, you may die physically, but you will never die again. Death means separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. If you have ever gone to a funeral or to a visitation and you have looked in a coffin to view the body, you see that physical body, but you know something is missing. It is because the soul is no longer there. Death is that separation of the soul and the physical body. That is physical death. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Revelation 20:14 and Revelation 21:8 tells us that the second death is the lake of fire and brimstone. The second death is spending eternity in hell, separated from God forever. I do believe that hell is a literal place. I believe it exists. Is it fire, is it brimstone, is it gnashing of teeth? Maybe those are metaphors. I believe it is something so horrible that it is hard to describe in words. I do not want anyone to go there. It is eternal torment.
Some people use this verse about dying the second death to uphold their view of the doctrine of annihilation. Some people believe that people who are unbelievers will go to hell for a period of time. They will suffer and be tormented for a period of time, but it will not be for eternity because it says the second death. They will eventually die and they will eventually be put out of their misery. That is the doctrine or the view of annihilation of hell. I do not agree with that. As much as I want to believe that, I do not believe the Bible backs that up. The second death will be eternal separation from God in torment. That should leave us to want to bring everyone we know to be with us in Heaven. I had some coworkers in Dallas who used to joke about the parties they were going to have in hell. I just thought, “you have no idea.”
Jesus was reminding these suffering Christians in Smyrna who may be facing death in the near future. Their enemies can only take their lives once. If they kill you, they just ended your physical life. That is all they have done, but your spiritual life continues on forever. I have heard it said and I put this up on the screen to help you, “If you are born twice, you will only die once.” If you are born physically and then later you are born spiritually, you will only die once and that will be when you die physically, (unless the Lord comes back, in which case you would not die at all). “If you are only born once, you will die twice.” If you are only born physically, you will die physically and you will die spiritually. The ultimate reward is life. Be hopeful.
If we are going to suffer well we need to remember these five things:
- Jesus is the ultimate victor.
- Suffering is the ultimate test.
- Satan is the ultimate enemy.
- Trust is the ultimate solution.
- Life is the ultimate reward.
Probably the closest that I have ever come to being persecuted for my faith was as a senior in college at LSU. I was doing an internship in medical technology at Baton Rouge General Hospital. My entire senior year was spent at the hospital as we would rotate through labs. One of the instructors of one particular lab was a well-known atheist there at the hospital. She hated Christians.
I had just started walking with the Lord that year before and I had gone on a beach project with Campus Crusade that summer. I came back that fall and I was so on fire for the Lord. I was ready to share Christ with anybody and, you know, I could handle this lady.
My time came to rotate through that lab. It was probably six weeks. I was with another student, another medical technology student, and I noticed that this lady had very little to do with me. She would not teach me. She would take the other student aside and sit down and show her how to do the instruments and explain the physiology behind what we were testing. She would totally ignore me. I noticed it and after a few weeks I thought you know I think I need to say something to her.
So, I went into her office, which was at the back of the lab. I went into her office and I said you know I just wanted to ask you a question. Have I done something to offend you? I had not ever said anything about the Lord to her. I was kind of scared. So I kept my guard there, but I said, “have I done something?” She told me to shut the door. I shut the door and I stood there. She began to just blast me for my faith. I cannot remember all the things said, but I do remember pieces of it that I was a weak little wimp who cannot stand on your own two feet. All Christians cannot stand on their own feet and you could not do this if you had to. You are so dependent on this myth and you are crazy. She went on and on and on about my faith in Jesus Christ. She would not spend one minute helping me, somebody who had thrown their life away believing in this fantasy of Jesus Christ. She went on and on and on and I was dumbfounded. It was probably only 15 minutes, but it seemed like hours. She finally said, “do you have anything you want to say?” I said “nope.” I did not know what to say because I thought I knew I was going to cry. So, I opened the door and walked through the lab. Of course, all the other med techs are sitting there pretending like they were not listening. But, you know, they heard every word. I walked out and thank goodness it was 3:30 which was the time to go home. I went into the bathroom and I sat down and I cried. Then, I got my purse and I drove home.
I went home that night and I got angrier the more I thought about it. I had decided how I was going to handle this. I was going in the next morning and I was going to tell this lady that she was going to hell and I was going to celebrate that she was going. You know, I was just going to let her know and express that “I am glad you are going to hell.” Ask what you dare if you will let me. I was just going through my mind of what I was going to say. I was so bitter. I wanted to hurt her and I wanted her to go to hell. That is how bad I felt. That night my roommate came in and I was telling Tina about what had happened and my plan for the next day, and how I was going to really get her. Tina said, you know Crickett, or at that time I was Janene. I was not Crickett then. She said, “Janene, let’s just get down on our knees. Let’s pray.” I thought, “okay we can pray about this. I need strength.” She started and began by reading from Isaiah 53 about Jesus the suffering servant. She read,
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.” (NIV)
It was like the Word just pierced my heart. She prayed and asked God to give me strength to go in the next day and to handle this the way that Jesus would. I cried and I prayed and I said, “God, I do not think I can do this. Right now, I hate this woman.” So, I got up the next morning before dawn and I took a walk. I sat outside and prayed. I went in and I just said, “God I do not think I can do this. I do not think I can be like You.” I went into that lab and got there before she did. She came in and I said, “Good morning, how are you doing? Do you want a cup of coffee?” I am thinking, “I do not know where that came from!” I will tell you it was turning point because she did not say one more word to me negatively. As a matter of fact, she began to teach me. We became great friends. Even after I left to go on staff of Campus Crusade, she wrote me while I was in ministry. She never came to the Lord, but I thank God for that roommate who kept me from making a huge mistake in my flesh and my anger. She used the Word of God to just muzzle me.
You know, none of us will probably be persecuted for our faith any worse than that. Most of us will never die for our faith and I hope we do not. But, we are going to experience suffering on this earth without doubt. Whether it is because of our faith or whether it is because He wants to deepen our faith, we will suffer. My prayer for us is that we would suffer well.
Father, I just thank you for the privilege of knowing you personally. Thank you for being that ultimate victor who won victory over death so we might have life eternal. Thank you for the strength that You give us when our flesh just does not have it. Father, I pray that we would be people who suffer well, who would please you in a way that we handle anything that comes up. Be thou our vision. In Jesus’ name, amen.
1 John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Revelation 1-11 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 69.
2 Ibid., 69-70.
3 Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 44.
4 MacArthur, New Testament Commentary, 71.
5 Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 25.
6 Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 43.
7 Richards, L., The Teacher's Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987), 1075.