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Revelation Lesson 05 - The Crushed Fragrance of Christ-Followers

Revelation Lesson 05 - The Crushed Fragrance of Christ-Followers

Series: Revelation
Ref: Revelation 2:8–11

Persecution is not relegated to the ancient past. So as Stephen takes us back in time to witness how believers in Asia Minor stood strong amidst great opposition, we'll learn better how to respond to the antagonism we face today.

Transcript

The Crushed Fragrance of Christ Followers

Revelation 2:8-11

Over these past few weeks, I’ve received numerous emails and messages copied to me about persecution in the world against Christians.

I received this email from one missionary statesman in India;

I write this letter with an urgency to request all of you to please pray for our church planters in the state of Orissa.

One of our church planters from Orissa called us yesterday morning to share with us that 7 of our churches were ransacked and burnt in two districts of Orissa. The church planters in these districts were threatened for life and forced to leave the villages. The church services were not allowed to take place and the believers were prevented from attending the worship service. There is a lot of violence and riots taking place.

The threats are continuing and escalating into violence. Our pastors constantly go through harassment from anti-Christian movements and believers' privileges are withdrawn and they are forced to leave their homes and villages.  We just need your prayers!

 

Then another email arrived from him;

Dear Friends, I write this with mixed feelings of joy and heavy heart. The reason for our joy is to know that 157,000 people responded to the Gospel and 396 new churches planted in 2007 – praise the Lord!

My heavy heart is because of the pain, the beatings and threats that our church planters go through right now in Orissa. But we thank God for the Hope in Christ and we join with Apostle Paul in saying, “We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus…” (2 Corinthians 4:9-10)

Even as I am writing this letter, I received a urgent phone call from a pastor who said two trucks full of people have arrived to destroy the church building.

We know that the persecution is going to increase but we also know that it will result in thousands turning to Christ and hundreds of churches planted as we have experienced throughout this year. 

This is the time for us to develop men and women who know they are not standing alone and cannot be knocked out in the midst of persecution which Christ has said we will experience and will rejoice in affliction because we experience the power of Christ. 

This past week I was copied by our friend and fellow pastor to the Pokot people in Kenya – specifically in Kapenguria.  Chumum reports of the growing violence and his own escape from near certain death . . . the destruction of churches by anti-Christian movements and the bloodshed is escalating.

Our partner, Pastor Inez in Kenya and Build the Village are in difficult straights. In fact, one of the churches built by Build the Village and our missionary Damon Davenport has already been burned to the ground.

One of our missionaries to regions in the middle east has sent several emails this past month revealing the ending of peace for the Algerian church where persecution at the hands of Muslims is now beginning to increase.  The Algerian government and media is now pressuring Christianity to stop evangelizing and some laws have been recommended, making conversion to Christianity criminal.  Authorities are looking for any possible excuse to close protestant churches that preach the gospel and church leaders are heading toward prison sentences.

Travel on to Nigeria, where I read just this past week news releases which reveal the murder of Christians at the hands of Muslim extremists.  One Christian Book Store owner in Gaza was shot and stabbed multiple times.  He also served as a youth leader at the Gaza Baptist Church and had been threatened many times before.  He is survived by a pregnant wife and two small children.

Israel My Glory, January/February, 2008, p. 9

I learned this past week that Vladimir Putin the Russian leader gave orders that effective Jan 1, 2008, the Russia broadcast organization was  to remove all Christian programs from the 2 Russian networks in Myak and Yunost that TWR uses. These networks include over 700 local stations. TWR has also had to close the Moscow program production office and they are now searching for locations outside of Russia were we can broadcast back into Russia.

You can clearly hear the creaking sound of those massive Communist doors beginning to close once again to all evangelical influence.   But the church will continue on . . . because persecution does not handicap the church, it multiplies the church.

 

And I could go on and on and on with current news of the suffering, persecuted church. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, according to the international bulletin of missionary research, 480 Christians are martyred somewhere in our world for Christ, every single day.

World Magazine, February 9/16, 2008

By the time I finish this sermon, nearly 20 people will have entered heaven because they refused to abandon Christ.

But this was the promise of Christ.  Just as the world hated me, they will hate you, He promised in Matthew 10:22.

Behind the scenes it is Satan, the ultimate anti-Christian who hates the church.  He knows that Christians will one day occupy the throne room that he so desired.

We will co-reign with Christ over the universe and Satan longs for that glory.  But when we rise enthroned in heavenly places with Christ, Satan will merely experience one more downward plunge.

He was first hurled from heaven to earth (Isaiah 14), then he will be cast from earth into the abyss for a 1,000 years (Revelation 20:3)), and after a brief release he will be hurled into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10)

John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 49

He knows of his never ending downward plunge and he knows of the Christians rise to never ending glory.  And how he hates you.  How he hates the bride of Christ who will reign with Christ forever and ever.

And so for 21 centuries he has attacked and schemed, plotted and murdered, belittled, slandered, attacked, frustrated and even tortured the church.  If the Christian will enter the glory he coveted, as far as Satan is concerned, the Christian will enter it having suffered as greatly as he can possibly suffer.

But God uses it to build up the Christian and bring God glory and even advance the church.

Satan only ends up hurting himself.  For persecution does not stamp out the church, it spreads the church.  Suffering does not paralyze the church it purifies the church and promotes the church and propagates the gospel of the church to the world which wonders how the church can suffer so and still sing and speak of Christ.

Tertullian, the church father who lived in the midst of persecution said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Ibid, p. 4

In other words, you spill the blood of a Christian, and it just seems to sprout new believers and new churches.

This is true in the 21st century in places like Algeria and Orissa, India, Russia and Africa and it was also true in the 1st century.

Crush the life of a believer and a sweet fragrance is emitted that simply draws more people to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Out of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 who received a special letter from Christ, only 2 of them heard not one word of criticism from their Lord. 

This next church we’re about to study was one of them.  And not surprisingly, it was a church that was suffering.

Let’s open the letter together at Revelation chapter 2 and verse 8.  And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.   9.  I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

Now in this letter, our Lord commends this church in at least four areas.  He says, “Listen, I know all about you . . .

  1. First (v. 9) I know you bear up under great pressure.

Your text might read, “I know your tribulation.”

That word is thlipsis (qliyiV) – which means, trouble or pressure. 

Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 812

It’s a Greek word that was used in these days for a man being tortured to death by being slowly crushed as a huge boulder was dropped down upon him.

William Barclay, Letter to the Seven Churches (Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 35

Jesus Christ is saying, “I know the crushing pressures in your life.”

What was it about life in Smyrna that was creating such pressure?

Without a doubt their pressure was two fold.

The hatred they endured by the Jews who lived in their city – we’ll look at that later on.

And secondly, the predominance of Caesar worship.

The great Roman Empire had brought peace to it’s citizens.  A person could conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, take his journeys in security, thanks to the strong had of Rome.  The seas had been cleared of pirates, the paved Roman roads were kept cleared of thieves and people no longer lived under the changing winds of barbarism. 

It was not difficult to turn patriotism and loyalty to Rome into a form of worship.  So was born the worship of Dea Roma, the goddess Rome.

At first this was spontaneous and voluntary, but over time there rose the belief that there was indeed a person who embodied the spirit of Rome and that one man was the Emperor.  In him the spirit of Dea Roma was incarnated. 

First, worship to him was simply accepted; alter on it was made official and the Emperor was viewed as the incarnation of deity. 

Isn’t that amazing?  How like the gospel does the Enemy of the church move mankind to create their false religions.

To make matters worse, toward the end of the First Century, Domitian made Caesar worship mandatory.  Once a year the citizens of Rome were to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar.  It was not so much an act of religion as it was an act of loyalty and good citizenship.

Anyone who refused to burn his little pinch of incense was rendered an outlaw. 

 

But of you burned your incense to Caesar, you got a certificate from the priests.  We even have from historical records the writing on these certificates. They simply read, “We, the representatives of the Emperor have seen you sacrificing.” The priests would sign the certificate and date it.

 

You could then go back to worshipping and sacrificing to the god of your choice. 

You can see the problem, can’t you?!

Any idolater had no problem offering his incense and declaring Caesar was Lord.  Caesar was just one of many gods . . . big deal.

But the Christian couldn’t do it.  They couldn’t compromise in this 2 minute task.  They could give to no man the name of their Messiah.  He alone was Lord.

The words of Paul rang in their ears where he wrote, “For us there is one God the Father . . . and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

 

Without that certificate, persecution, imprisonment, suffering was liable to break out at any moment.

Notes on Smyrna adapted from Barclay, p. 28-31

Now, to make matters even worse, Smyrna was so dedicated to Caesar worship that they were the first city in the world to build a temple to Dea Roma, the goddess of Rome.

And in A.D. 26, they competed with 6 other prominent cities for the right to build a temple to the godhead of Tiberius, the reigning emperor – and they won the bid.

For a person to enter the church in Smyrna was to lay your life down. 

 

They never knew when the boulder was going to drop.  They lived and worked with the prospect of a crushing, tortuous death at any moment.

I found it fascinating to discover that the Greek word Smyrna means myrrh.   Myrrh was a fragrant spice used as perfume.  It was obtained when the flowering myrrh tree – or thorn bush – was crushed.  The sticky, fragrant resin was collected and then used as perfume. It was also used in preparing the dead for burial. 

Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Zondervan, 1971), p. 44

When Jesus Christ was visited by the Magi they brought him symbolic gifts:

  • They gave him the gift reserved for royalty – gold.
  • They gave Him frankincense – used by the priests in the Old testament as part of their priestly service of intercession.
  • And they gave Him the gift of myrrh. 

Myrrh – sweet perfume that was used to embalm the dead.  Symbolizing his own death . . . the suffering Savior who would die for the sins of the world.

And Jesus Christ says to the saints living in the city of Myrrh, “I know what it means to live under a death sentence; I understand everything you’re facing.”

We can’t imagine what it meant for them to hear the Savior say, “I know your tribulation . . . I know the pressure of despair and death – I sweat drops of blood over it!”

I know!

It is encouraging, isn’t it, to face some dark hour of trial . . . to have a friend take you by the hand and say, “I know . . . I understand . . . I’ve been there.”

Adapted from Phillips, p. 46

  • I’ve had that illness . . . I know what you’re facing. 
  • I know what it’s like to lose a relationship because of personal conviction.
  • I know what it’s like to lose that promotion because of integrity and honesty.
  • I know what it’s like to bury a child.
  • I know what it’s like to be abandoned by family.

Listen to Jesus Christ say to you, “I know the burden on your heart and spirit . . . you may not have a boulder lowered down upon you; you may not have problems with Caesar worship in your culture, but you’ve got a rock in the pit of your stomach . . . a heaviness in the middle of your chest . . . I know all about it.”

How incredibly encouraging to a suffering believer to know that Jesus Christ knows.

How like our children.  When they’re hurt they run to Mommy –they want to be held – but more than that, they want to know that Mommy knows and Mommy cares.  I don’t know about your kids, but when my kids were hurt they ran to Mom and when they were broke they ran to me.  They wanted Mom to know.

Even over this past Christmas break, our three college kids were home and our daughter ended up sick with the stomach flu all night – at one point she came into our bedroom, it was around 3 o’clock in the morning, to let us know she was sick.  I was fine without knowing.  I didn’t need to know.  But Marsha cared.  Listen at 3 in the morning our kids know she acts more like Jesus than I do.  And they want her to know.

Jesus Christ says to the suffering saints in Smyrna, “I know you are experiencing great pressure.”

  1. Secondly, He assures them that he knows they are enduring deep poverty.

He says in verse 9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich.”

I love this phrase.

You are poverty stricken.  No doubt owing to the fact that their jobs and homes and livelihood could be taken away, many of them probably endured similar acts that the Jews suffered in Nazi Europe.  Their homes were vandalized in broad daylight.  Their shops were broken into and all the goods stolen.  They were left destitute and poverty stricken.

Jesus Christ adds this insightful phrase, “but you are rich.”

Is He like some blind optimist.

Let me explain it this way.

Suppose you are a very poor person.  Some of you are thinking, this does not require an imagination.  I mean you have nothing in your bank account.  You don’t have any money for gas, food, utilities and the bank is going to foreclose on your home.

But suppose I’m a millionaire.    And with three kids in college, that will require an imagination. 

And I come up to you and say, “Listen, Susy, Fred, John, Cindy.  I’ve been doing some research on my family tree and you’ll never believe it, but your great-great uncle was my great-great –great grandfather’s nephew.  We’re actually way distant cousins.

And as my custom I every family member of mine one million dollars. So here’s your check for one million dollars.

And I hand it to you.

Now what do you do?  After waxing my truck.

You run to the bank.  Now, before you get there, let me ask you, “Are you poor, or rich?”

Mind you, you haven’t deposited that money in your bank account yet.  But you’re going there as fast as you can.

And you would answer, “I’m rich!”

You’d call your wife and your parents and your boss on the way to the bank and you shout, “We are millionaires . . . we’re rich!”

Oh?  All you’ve got is a piece of paper in your hand.  Ah, but you know the signature is good and that this piece of paper is supported by the wealth of your donor.  And you are related to him and he’s promised to give every family member 1 million dollars.

You’re rich.  Even as you drive your bucket of bolts to the bank and walk in wearing threadbare clothing and your stomach rumbling because you haven’t had anything to eat in 24 hours – you are rich.

Friends . . . you have a check, effectively written with your name on it.  And the riches of heaven are your inheritance. 

You might be poor on the way to the bank, but at the same time we have the riches of God in Christ Jesus – His inheritance, His righteousness, His kingdom, His throne, His splendor, His new heaven and new earth – all promised to those who are in His Father’s family.

 

The writer of Hebrews said this of believers like those living in Smyrna, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an everlasting one. (Hebrews 10:34)

It won’t be long before we all will arrive at the bank.

Jesus Christ says to them, “I know how you are bearing up under great pressure; I know how you endure deep poverty; and thirdly:

  1. I know you are suffering unfair provocation

Notice verse 9 again where Christ says, “I know the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

In other words, these people do not represent a synagogue of God, the truly represent a synagogue who does the will of Satan.

The Christians were enduring a smear campaign by these Jews who refused to follow after Christ.

Historical records tell us what these slanderous accusations were:

Because the Christians refused to worship the gods and visit the temples, they were accused of being atheists and infidels.   

Another more severe provocation was this; since Christians celebrated communion and talked about partaking of flesh and blood, they were accused of cannibalism; they were accused of killing and eating their own in strange rituals that of course provoked great horror in the minds of the average citizens of Rome.

Christians were also known to speak of loving one another and being the members of one another, and thus the accusation was developed that Christians actually engaged in sexual orgies within their communities of faith.

Adapted from Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 39

All of this slander enabled much of the persecution faced by these early Christians.

Finally, the Lord informs the believers in Smyrna of their future. 

  1. Here’s the fourth area that Christ knows about; He says, “I know some of you will face a future in prison.”

v. 10.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.

To make matters worse, some of you will be separated from your families . . . some of you husbands and fathers will be imprisoned and your already impoverished family will have to make it without you.

What a crushing blow this would be.

Like some of these Albanian and Uzbekistan pastors and believers I read about this week who are awaiting prison sentences, only because they refuse to stop believing and propagating the gospel.

Now, what does John mean when he writes, “You will have tribulation for 10 days.”  Some believe it’s simply an idiom for a short period of time.

I believe it’s a reference to the 10 edicts of persecution against Christians that will be delivered by 10 Roman emperors.

The first was Nero in A. D. 54 and the last would be Diocletian in A.D. 284

10 crushing edicts that brought untold suffering and hardship to the believer and behind it all – the devil – “The god of this world which has blinded the eyes of them that believe not lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

The one who will assault the church but, Christ promised, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against her.” (Matthew 16:18)

Now I want you to notice;

 Their Challenge from the Lord:

Verse 10b.  Be faithful unto death.

G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor and author from a century ago pointed out that this word “faithful” is from the same Greek root which means to be convinced; to be convinced in His power and His grace and His will and His plan.

Lehman Strauss, Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1964), p. 46

Remain convinced even in the face of death that Christ is worth following and faithfully follow him.

Just 2 years ago, the Voice of Persecution ministry delivered to the west an incident of child-like faith in Christ deep inside communist China.  Chinese officials burst into an unofficial church meeting where around 30 children were having Sunday school.  They herded the children into a van and took them away to the station.  Their parents raced after them.  Even though it frightening for the children, one of them began to sing and soon the van will filled with their songs about Jesus.  Upon arriving at the police station, the children marched bravely into an interrogation room, still singing to the Lord.  The Chiness officers attempted to force the children to write, “I do not belive in Jesus,” telling them that they had to write it 100 times before they would be allowed to go home.  Instead, the children wrote, “I believe in Jesus today; I will believe in Jesus tomorrow; I will believe in Jesus forever.”

The officers were exasperated with the courage and faith of these children.  They called their parents back to the interrogation room and threatened them.  Some of them denied Christ, scooped up their children and left.  Others refused.   One widowed believer absolutely refused to deny Christ when she was brought back to pick up her twin sons.  The officers threatened her, saying, “If you do not deny Jesus, we will not release your twin sons to you.”

She replied with a touch of humor, “I guess you will just have to keep them, because without Jesus, I can’t raise them.”  With no avenues left open to them, not expecting this kind of resistance they simply said to her and the others, “Take your children and go.”

thevoice@persecution.com/11/08/05

Their Compensation From the Lord

The Lord provides not only a challenge, but reminds them of a portion of their compensation.

He promises in verse 9, Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

The word used here for crown is not diadema – the crown of royalty, but the stephanos – the victors crown.

You could better translate it “wreath”.

  • This was given to the athlete who won the contest  - this was their version of Olympic gold.
  • It was also given to those who served their community faithfully, advancing the city as a good citizen.
  • It was also worn at weddings and other festive occasions of great joy.

Adapted from Barclay, p. 38

  • So Christ effectively reminds these suffering, impoverished believers that there will come a day when they will be given the wreath as victorious athletes who ran the race and finished their course; 
  • Christ will give this special crown to them and us as we celebrate in the wedding feast as the Bride of our Kinsman Redeemer;
  • And Christ will also give to them and us the wreath as good citizens who advanced the cause of the eternal city of God.

Our affliction is indeed light, when compared to the eternal weight of glory which is beyond comparison.  (2 Corinthians 4:17)

This is their challenge from the Lord; this is their compensation from the Lord.

Notice thirdly, their Confidence in the Lord:

The letter ends in verse 11. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The one who conquers will not be hurt in the second death.

It’s interesting that the letter began with a reference to overcoming death and now it ends with the believer overcoming death.

Appropriate don’t you think, being written to a body of believers who will suffer martyrs deaths?

You will not be hurt by the second death – a reference to that eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.

Just as the first death doesn’t bring about the extinction of the spirit – in fact, you are more alive than ever after physical death.  So also, after the second death, those who are condemned to hell will be forever more alive than ever.

How do you escape this second death?  By faith in Christ alone.

You must be born again, not of the flesh but of the Spirit (John 3:6). 

If you are born physically and by faith spiritually, you will only die once.

If you have never been born again, by placing your trust in Christ alone as your Savior, you will die any day now and then you will be eventually judged according to Revelation chapter 20) and you will experience death eternally.

In other words, if you’ve been born twice, you die once.

If you been born only once, you die twice.

How do we know we’ll be saved forever?  This is our confidence in the Lord who was dead, verse 8 says, and came to life.

Yes, you may be crushed . . . but from the crushing of your lives comes the sweet aroma of the fragrance of faith and trust in the One who rose from the dead.

One last thought.

Polycarp was the leader of the church in Smyrna 55 years after this letter was written by John.  Polycarp had been a student and a disciple of John the Apostle.

It was a festival in the city and the fever pitch of Rome’s glory was blazing.   Someone recommended they seize Polycarp and make him declare his loyalty to Caesar.

He was brought into the arena and told to either confess Caesar as Lord or die.   Jewish leaders led the mob by slandering his name.  The cried out, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of the gods, who teaches many neither to offer sacrifice nor to worship.”  Polycarp was given the choice – sacrifice to Caesar or be burned to death.  We have his immortal answer recorded and protected over the centuries.  Translated for us, Polycarp said to the hushed mob, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King and Savior?  I fear not the fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished . . . why do you delay?  Come, do your will.”  In a matter of moments, he was burned to death and the words of Christ came true for him – he received the crown of life.

John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 74

Pray . . . then sing;

It will be worth it all,

When we see Jesus;

Life’s trials will seem so small,

When we see Christ.

One glimpse of His dear face,

All sorrows will erase,

So bravely run the race,

Til we see Christ.

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