Bible Passage: Revelation 2:8-11
Big Idea: Satan tries to Snuff out the Menorah – through Direct Attack
Intro: Good Morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and we are now in Revelation looking at Johns seven letters to seven churches. The seven churches are God’s Menorah light to the world and Satan is doing everything he can to snuff out – that light. So let me pray…
PRAYER: Well friends, each year, Open Doors – produces a World Watch List for Christian persecution. (Slide 2) This year, AFGHANISTAN made it to the top of the list, just ahead of NORTH KOREA. But both places – are probably equally bad – just in different ways…
The estimated population of Christians IN AFGHANISTAN is now probably less 10,000 people. After America left the country in August last year – 1) most Christians will have been put to death or 2) forced to renounce their faith. Being found with Christian literature in your house or on your smart phone is a potential death sentence. The Taliban does randon checks of people’s phones in the street. If you are found with Christian material you will be killed or sent to a psychiatric hospital. The Taliban like to portray Christianity as a MENTAL HEALTH issue. So Christians are often hospitalised and forced to take antipsychotic medication. There are some things worse than death.
You must be in the Mosque for Friday prayers because the Taliban takes the role. Non-attendance again equals death or a psych ward. What’s more, there is infighting between the TALIBAN and ISLAMIC STATE, with both trying to prove they are more fundamental than the other. This fundamentalism is often proved through horrific barbarism towards Christians. (I know most of don’t want to think about this). But Christians in Afghanistan are already in the midst of great tribulation.
The same is true in NORTH KOREA. North Korea has about 400-500,000 Christians. Christianity dates back to at least the 1600 and 1700’s. But many North Koreans are recent converts.
During the famines of the 1990’s, many starving north Koreans fled to China and were shown love, help and generosity from Christian churches. These North Koreans (estimated in tens and maybe even hundreds of thousands) then took Christianity back howm with them. But Kim Jung Un has made Christianity illegal and and it is believed 50-70,000 Christians now live in forced labor camps.
Most houses are searched at least once a year – looking for subversive material – which includes the Bible and/or Christian literature. Found with incriminating material its death or labor camp. IN NORTH KOREA – perhaps the most dangerous thing you can do is pray or read the Bible with your children. Sadly, most Christians get in trouble because their children unknowingly report them in school classes. In the past 12 months – KIM JUNG UN – has passed a new law called “the anti-reactionary thought law.” This law identifies Christians as one of the worst enemies of the state, with Catholics being considered slightly worse than Protestants. I wonder why?
Now if you would like to support Open Doors just go to their website and you can find more details on these countries. Sadly, there are already many Christians suffering things that are probably on par with the great tribulation. For many, the horrors of great tribulation are not just a future reality, but a present reality.
Point 1: The Church in Smyrna is Already in Great Tribulation
Show: Rev.2:8-10 (READ)
Explain: Now remember the 7 churches represent the 7 branches of the Jewish Menorah light and Satan is doing everything he can to dim the light or put out the light. Sometimes, in places – like Afghanistan, North Korea and Smyrna this involves full-on physical attack.
In the letter to Smyrna – we see in verse 8 – Jesus begins with a reminder that he is the first and the last, who died and came to life again. Just as the Father is Alpha and Omega in Revelation 1, so Jesus is Alpha and Omega in Revelation 2. Both the Father and the Son have the same divine essence and attibutes and will. They are both fully God What’s more, Jesus who is fully God has demonstrated both his love for the church and his power to help the church (in his death and resurrection). This is the gospel and this is the Jesus that is standing in the midst of the churches. We are not alone in the spiritual battle.
GOSPEL Sadly, in the spiritual battle of life – Satan led all of us to sin against God. Satan figured, if God condemned him to hell, God would also have to condemn all of us to hell – in order to be be just. Satan thought that surely God wouldn’t send the whole world to hell.
But then God the Son came to earth and died on the cross for our sins.
Jesus literally did the time for our crimes. Jesus took the punishment for your sin – so that you no longer have to go to hell with Satan. Its now up to you. Everyone who accepts Jesus as Saviour and Lord – and begins to repent of their sins – will be forgiven. This is the gospel and THEORETICALLY it might even apply to Satan. But I don’t think he is going to surrender to Jesus’ Lordship or repent of his sin. The question is – WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you believe Jesus died for you? Are you willing to accept him as your Saviour Lord. Jesus who is God in the flesh – loves you enough to die for you and has resurrection power to help you – in the spiritual battle of life. So if you become a Christian Jesus promises to never leave you or forsake you.
Now last week, we were told Jesus is walking amongst the seven churches. This is a really helpful reminder – that we are not alone in the spiritual battle YES, SATAN IS TRYING to put out the light. But.the all powerful, all knowing, all present – Jesus who loves us enough to die for us – is with us – in this battle. Don’t forget how much Jesus loves youand how powerful he is to save you.
Perhaps you are fighting some sin at the moment – where you feel like you are losing. Well remember this Jesus is with you. Perhaps, there are things going on in work – which are unethical OR are pushing you to compromise your faith – remember Jesus is with you. If you are a genuine, real, born-again Christian – Jesus is with you (and no matter what happens or what you face) – I believe Jesus will give you the strength to overcome – because he loves you. Now that doesn’t mean it will be EASY or STRAIGHTFORWARD. Steps of faith are often costly. Steps of faith require real effort on our part. But if Jesus is with you (and you are humbly depending on him) – he is your guarantee of victory.
Now in Smyrna – the time of tribulation has already begun in some sense. In verse 9 – the word “affliction” is actually tribulation. Again, in verse 10 – where it talks about “suffering persection” – it is again tribulation. It is the same word – from which we get the great “tribulation,” spoken about in Daniel 12, Matthew 24, Revelation 7 and 2 Thessalonians 2. The Bible tells us; “the great tribulation” will be unparalleled in hostility towards the church. But I can assure you it was already really, really, really bad in Smyrna in 67-68AD.
Smyrna was the city in Asia Minor with the strongest links to Rome. They had a special temple called Dea Roma – to worship the spirit of Rome. Then in 23AD, Smyrna built another temple in honor of Emperor Tiberius. Smyrna was a Rome groupie. So when Nero started to persecute Christians, the people of Smyrna were super zealous to jumpon board. Local authorities were forcing Christians to pay homage to the state or lose jobs, face imprisonment and/or death.
But there was a further problem. Smyrna also had lots of Jewish people. Jewish people had freedom of religion in the Roman Empire. But this caused problems because were Jews who worshiped Jesus – still Jews entitled to religious freedom? Somewhat understandably – the Jewish synagogues all screamed NO as loud as possible. In fact, when THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS began many Jews used it as an opportunity to take out the Christian competition. That’s why, Jesus calls them a synagogue of Satan. In 68AD – Orthodox Jews were helping Satan to put out the Menorah light in the Christian church.
Point 2: The Church in Smyrna must Remain Faithful to the Point of Death
Show: Rev.2:9-10 (READ)
Explain: Well once Satan’s attack on the church becomes direct it usually involves THREE STEPS. First, the loss of livelihood. Second, the loss of liberty and third – the loss of life. Now the first thing you’ll notice is the church in Smyrna is in poverty. Yes, they are rich in faith. But their Christian faith is making them materially poor. Christians in Smyrna are losing their jobs and having people boycott their businesses because of their faith in Jesus. If you want to coerce people into a certain action – the first step is to threaten their livelihood. Take away their job and/or their ability to buy and sell.
Sadly, we saw this sort of coercion in the recent pandemic. The message for many people was get vaccinated or lose your job. The NSW government then managed to get about 96% compliance. And I know this sent shivers up and down the spine of many Christians – because threats to employment and controlling people’s ability to buy, sell and travel sounds a lot like – Revelation 13. Now I’m not saying the coronavirus vaccine (and subsequent green card) was the mark of the beast. But as I pointed out to the Archbishop and Bishop the similarities – for many Christians were as plain as day. And penalising them for trying to be true to conscience was just plain wrong. What’s more, we were being asked to now accept a type of vaccine that the church had previously opposed on ethical grounds.
So I totally understand AND tried to defend Christians who had alarm bells going off. They weren’t whack- jobs and they weren’t nutters. What many Christians were rightly (in my opinion) seeing was a type of AUTHORITARIAN COERCIVE BEHAVIOUR – that Smyrna experienced in 68AD (with the goal of apostasy) and we are going to experience in the last days (with the goal of apostasy). So let me tell you abpout another pandemic, that led to the original mark of the beast. It was called the libellus…
In 249AD – the Roman Empire suffered a world-wide plague known as the Cyprian plague. It was either small-pox or ebola – haemoraghic fever (out of Africa). About 5000 people a day were dying in Rome. The population in Alexandria went from 500,000 down to 190,000 in one year. This was an Empire-wide pandemic and the Roman Emperor Decius decided it was happening because the people had forsaken the Roman gods. So, everyone had to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. At first everyone was encouraged to do it for the safety of the Roman Empire. Every good citizen would surely do it – for everyone elses safety Sound familiar…
Then, Decius would issue you with what was called a CERTIFICATE OF SACRIFICE or in Latin – the LIBELLUS. The Libellus then gave you the ability to buy, sell and travel. But if you refused to offer the sacrifice no libellus. Without this libellus – you were labelled a danger to the Roman Empire and you could not travel, buy or sell. The church recognised that this libellus was a type of the mark of the beast and started to oppose it. (Now I’m not making this stuff up. Any internet search will confirm what I’m saying).
So Pope Fabian of Rome refused to comply and was put to death. Bishop Origen of Alecxandria refused and was so brutally tortured that he never recovered from his injuries and died soon afterwards. Now committing apostasy and being forced to take a dubious vaccine may be different ethical issues (as many of us recently decided…)
My point is simply – that what recently played out on the world stage with a view to enforcing vaccination, will play out again at some point with a view to enforcing apostasy. I suspect it will almost be identical (and I wish I had of remembered the story of Decius) 2 years ago. The Bible leads us to believe that at some point another antiChrist figure – in the mold of Nero or Decius – will try to put out the Menorah light of Jesus’ church through coercion – that begins with threats to employment
But if restricting people’s livelihoods doesn’t coerce them into apostasy – the next step is imprisonment. Take away their freedom. Then, if that doesn’t work – you start killing the leaders. The first leader may be strong enough to take a bullet. But there is usually a leader who folds, and once that happens – most people start to fold…
Apply: This is simply the 3 Satanic steps to apostasy. Step 1 – threaten livelihood. Step 2 – threaten liberty. Step 3 – threaten life itself. Now in Australia we may not yet be facing IMPRISONMENT, or LOSS OF LIFE. But I can see – threats to our employment and livelihood are beginning. ONE EXAMPLE is that Christian lecturer Patricia Weerakoon (pretty much) lost her job at Sydney University because she wouldn’t denounce her Christian views on sexuality. (Slide 7) Friends, this is where coercion to apostasy begins…
But what does Jesus tell us at the end of verse 10 (READ). Now is this sort of faithfulness optional or is Jesus asking us for this sort of unflinching, undivided faithfulness? The reason I ask, is that I already see many Christians selling out – with far less pressure – than loss of livelihood, liberty or life. Jesus is clearly saying no compromise. AND IF YOU MAKE THE DECISION NOW to be faithful A) to Jesus and B) his words (no matter the cost) – I trust that will put you in good stead – when the really big decisions come later. But if you are already caving now, you’re likely to cave and commit apostasy later.
Jesus says; “Be faithful to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.” The word crown is “STEPHANOS” – from which we get the name Stephen – the first Christian martyr. STEPHANOS is also the word used to describe Jesus’ crown of thorns. If Jesus really is calling us to be faithful enough to be martyrs – what does that sort of faithfulness begin to look like, in your life now. Are you ready for martyrdom?
Point 3: The Church in Smyrna is told not to fear Martyrdom
Show: Rev.2:10-11 (READ)
Explain: Now friends, I really don’t know what the persecution for 10 days is about. The best answer I’ve seen is that there were 10 clear periods of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire before it collapsed. So perhaps 10 days is talking about 10 distinct times Smyrna would experience persecution from Rome. But I tell you this with little confidence. I don’t really know what the 10 days are about.
But Jesus tells us 1) to accept imprisonment and 2) be faithful to the point of death – and we will not be hurt at all by THE SECOND DEATH. Of course, the second death is talking about hell. JESUS’ POINT is that if you are called to bite the bullet for him – whats on the other side of that bullet is really good, not really bad.
In fact – there are hints in Revelation that those who are called to martyrdom for Jesus – may receive special honor in heaven. Forget about the title bishop, or archbishop or pope. The highest honor in heaven seems to be reserved for Christian martyrs. And you don’t need a theological degree to receive this honor. This honor is potentially open to everyone – even Geoff. Maybe Roy. Revelation actually focuses on the martyrs at key points in the book. Let me show you; (Slide 10 – Rev.6:9-11). Notice the martyrs go straight to be with God and are given a white robe. But we are told the end of the world is delayed until the full number of martyrs is realised. Martyrdom for a certain number of Christians is part of God’s plan and the martyrdom of a certain Christian will usher in the end of the world.
Again, (Slide 11 – Rev.7:13-14). Now I take it that these people are coming out of the great tribulation – through death and martyrdom. They have been faithful to Jesus (unto death in the great tribulation) and they immediately find themselves in God’s presence – serving him as priests. So martyrdom is not necessarily a bad thing.The tears are wipoed from your eyes a little earlier than everyone else.
But the big one is again Revelation 20. Let me show you because it echoes Jesus words about the second death and a specialhonor for martyrs. (Slide 12 – Rev.20:4-6). Now of course, this is the controversial passage that we all tend to gloss over or dismiss. Just about everyone ignores the details. But do you realise this may be the most important passage in Revelation for those being forced to commit apostasy in the last days. If you accept a plain reading of this passage – God actually promises a special honor is reserved in the millenium for those who have the faith to stand firm and die as martyrs in the great tribulation. That could be Geoff. That could be Roy. But please notice – for all those who believe in pre-tribulation rapture – this honor is not open to you. If you are raptured pre-tribulation then this honor is off the table. This honor is only for the faithful martyrs who look Satan in the eye, are coerced to accept the mark of the beast and yet overcome – by remaining faithful even unto death. This honor is only for those in the great tribulation.
Now maybe I’m just an idiot. But if God says A) there is a super-honor for B) the super-faithful – there is a part of me that wants a shot at that title. Yes, maybe, I’m an idiot. But does God ever ask us to do anything hard in this life, in which there is not an equal reward or blessing in heaven. The famous evangelist CT Studd, once said “some Christians want to live within the sound of a nice church bell, but I want to run a rescue mission within an inch of hell.” Its in that sentiment that I continue to minister in Redfern, rather than some nice leafy suburb. But taking those words further, I’d say; I’m not sure rapture is the great honor that so many Christians are seeking in the great tribulation.
Martyrdom seems to be the highest honor in Jesus’ kingdom and your best shot at this title – is in the great tribulation, not out of it. Now like I said – I am probably an idiot. But if martyrdom is this great honor that Revelation alludes to – I suspect this is a word that our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan AND North Korea need to hear. Those who die for Christ are the true heroes of the church. We think we’ve got it good here in all the comforts of the west. But I assure you those in Afgahnistan and North Korea have got a better chance of getting the highest honor in heaven – than most of us – ever will. You see, like so many things in God’s kingdom we look at comfort and persecution upside down and back to front when it comes to eternity. Who ends up looking more like Christ (in eternity) – the one who escapes the flames, or the one who is faithful and overcomes through the flames? That is the true honor – to look just a little bit like Christ.
Apply: Friends, I do not believe that those who are Christians will be raptured pre-tribulation. But I do believe those who are truly Christians will be overcomers in the great tribulation – through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And in the Millennium (however you conceive it) Revelation 20 leads me to believe those who are martyred for Jesus will have a special honor alongside Jesus.
Incredibly, these words that we have looked at today are not just theoretical, they are personal and prophetic. The apostle John probably didn’t know it (at the time) – but when he urged the church in Smyrna to be faithful even unto death – he was speaking directly to his most faithful, beloved student – Polycarp. For many years, John discipled a young man named Polycarp, just as the apostle Paul discipled Timothy. And later in life Polycarp became the bishop of Smyrna. He was a well-loved and highly respected as a bishop.
But in 150AD Smyrna again faced persecution through the reign of MARCUS AURELIUS. It was the same story. Satan was working to again put out the light and get the church to commit apostasy.
So like always it began with loss of livelihood for some. Then it was loss of liberty and imprisonment for others. Finally, (as Christians continued to resist) Marcus Aurelius started to take the life of Christian leaders. Let me show you Polycarps own words when he was arrested and brought to trial before the proconsul of Smyrna. (SLIDE ? – Polycarp).
Tragically, even though Polycarp was sentenced to death on A SABBATH (the Jews who are not meant to work on the Sabbath) were the ones most zealous to help collect the fire wood. As Polycarp was burnt alive he was supposedly heard praying and thanking God, for the incredible privilege of being counted worthy to be numbered among the martyrs. Will you be faithful to Jesus even to the point of death – if he gives you a shot at the highest title in eternity? Let me pray…