Print This Page Print This Page

THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – Revelation 2:8-11

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 16, 2016 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; January 6, 2016 from Revelation 2:8-11

Theme: The church that suffers persecution for Christ is pleasing to Him; and receives His commendation and encouragement.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

In this second of the seven letters—this one to the church in Smyrna (approximately 25 miles northwest from Ephesus)—the resurrected Lord Jesus encourages His church as it suffers persecution. This letter, like the sixth letter to the church at Philadelphia, stands out from the other five in that it contains no rebuke from the Lord for the believers to whom it was sent. It only contains His words of commendation and encouragement for them as they suffer for Him.


A. Its History. The city of Smyrna itself was so old that there’s no accurate account of its beginnings. It had been rebuilt several times—and is still in existence today as the beautiful Turkish city of Izmir. Ancient Smyrna was a city that displayed great loyalty to the Roman Empire; and so, like Ephesus, it was granted the privilege of being a self-governing city. About three-hundred years before this letter was written, the first temple to the goddess Roma was built in this city. On one very famous occasion, when a poorly-clad Roman army was faced with the prospect of being stuck in bitter winter weather, the citizens of Smyrna heard about it and reportedly took off all their pieces of warm clothing and sent them to the soldiers. Rome so appreciated Smyrna’s devotion that the imperial government chose it as the city in which to dedicate its temple to the Emperor Tiberius. And a few years later, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius financed its reconstruction. A strikingly beautiful ancient city—as is evident by the ruins that remain even today—it had well laid-out streets, and hillsides covered with ornate temples and public buildings. The most famous street in Smyrna curved around the slopes of the most prominent hill in city, and was called—perhaps not without good reason—“the Street of Gold”. It was also known for its cultural and civil contributions. It was a center of science and medicine, and was proud of its reputation as the birthplace of the Greek poet Homer.

B. Its Interaction with Christianity. Because of its esteemed relationship with the Roman empire, Smyrna came to be a center for the cult of emperor worship. Under the rule of the emperor Domitian, emperor worship became compulsory. Everyone was required to burn incense in worship to Caesar; and everyone who did so faithfully was issued a certificate verifying the fact. Anyone who could not prove their worship of the emperor with this certificate risked the threat of death. Obviously, this placed the Christians living in Smyrna, who could by no means bow to Caesar, in grave danger.

C. Persecution in Smyrna. This city was the location of one of the most famous martyrdoms in Christian history—that is, of its bishop Polycarp, who was a direct student of the apostle John. Polycarp was a much loved church leader who, as tradition has it, had been consecrated as bishop of Smyrna by John himself. He, no doubt, would have read this letter, and would have drew strength from it. Such a devoted servant of Christ could not help but suffer persecution in such a paganistic city. But he lived his devotion to Christ out in the open; and refused to hide from his persecutors. The fourth-century church historian Eusabius, in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 4, chapt. 15), writes that when Polycarp was finally arrested as a very old man, and brought into an arena filled with an angry mob, he refused to comply with the command to simply say, ‘Lord Caesar’. When the proconsul commanded him to deny Christ and swear by Caesar instead, he replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” When again commanded, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp said, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, 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. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” In a final effort to get Polycarp to deny Christ, the proconsul told him that he would burn him alive if he didn’t; and to this, Polycarp replied, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but 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 wilt.” With that, the decision was rendered to burn him alive. Crowds of people rushed from the stadium and out into the city to gather wood; and the Jewish citizens of the city were, according to the story, the most eager ones of all to help with the burning. Polycarp stood in the fire and bravely yielded his life up for Jesus in February of 156 A.D., giving glory to God as he died in the fire. The name “Smyrna” came from the Greek word that translated the Hebrew word for ‘myrrh’—the substance used often as a perfume. Myrrh was distinct because it gave off its fragrance only after having been crushed. Hence, it stands as a symbolic representation of the church in the city of Smyrna—being crushed by the trials of persecution, and giving off a sweet fragrance of faithfulness, well-pleasing to the Lord.


He is “the First and the Last” (1:11). This speaks of His eternality—far above the threat of death. But He also took on human flesh so that He could become the One “who was dead, and came to life” (1:18). This would come as great encouragement to the saints who were suffering the threat of death by persecution for His sake. He was showing in these words that they had no need to fear death, because He has conquered it.


A. He says, “I Know” . . . (v. 9). This is put in the perfect tense of the verb—indicating that he knows these things as a matter of complete and perfect knowledge. And what is it that He knows in such a perfect and complete way?

1. He knows their works (v. 10a). Just as He knew the works of the saints in Ephesus (2:2), He knew the works of the saints in Smyrna—except, with respect to the works of the saints in Smyrna, there is no “But I have this against you” from the Lord.

2. He knows their tribulation (v. 10a; i.e., pressure). He wants His precious people to know that He is fully aware of what it is that they’re suffering. He feels the pain they feel, and is sympathetic to the trials they’re under (Hebrews 4:15).

3. He knows their poverty (i.e., extreme beggarliness). They no doubt became impoverished by the unjust actions of those who hated their faith in Him (Hebrews 10:34). But Jesus wanted them to know that—in reality—they were rich in heavenly reward (Matthew 5:11-12).

4. He knows the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews but are not. Those things that were spoken against Him by their persecutors was ever before Him (see Acts 9:4). The Lord speaks of those who say they are Jews but are not; and this may be reflected in the fact that it was the Jewish people who were most aggressive in encouraging the death of Polycarp. In our Lord’s reckoning, someone is not a Jew strictly on the basis of birth, but also on the basis of inward spiritual devotion and faith (Romans 2:28-29). But these Smyrnian Jews were not truly ‘Jewish’ in God’s sight. Instead, He calls them a synagogue (congregation) of Satan (see John 8:44).

B. He tells these suffering Christians, “Do not fear . . .” (v. 10b). This is put in the present tense of the verb; and in the form of a prohibition, this suggesting that they were fearing right then the things they are about to suffer, and were being told to stop fearing them.

1. He lets them know that Satan—who is, to them, as an aggressive ‘roaring lion’ (see 1 Peter 5:8)—is about to cast some of them into prison (see Revelation 12:17). But this, under God’s sovereign control, was designed not to harm them but rather to “test” them (1 Peter 1:6-7).

2. He lets them know it would only be for a limited time—only, as He says, “ten days”. This may be a literal ten days; or it may be symbolic of the ten main periods of persecution that historians tell us the early church suffered from the Roman government. John Fox, in the second chapter of his Book of Martyrs, has these listed as occurring (1) under Nero in A.D. 67, (2) under Domatian in A.D. 81, (3) under Trajan in A.D. 108, (4) under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in A.D. 162, (5) under Severus in A.D. 192, (6) under Maximus in A.D. 235, (7) under Decius in A.D. 249, (8) under Valerian in A.D. 257, (9) under Aurelian in A.D. 274, and (10) under Diocletian, A.D. 303. In any case—whether a literal ten day, or as a symbol of the ten great early persecutions, the Lord lets these Smyrnian believers know that the duration of their time of suffering is kept in His hand—and that it is strictly limited by Him (1 Peter 3:14-16).

C. He urges them, “Be faithful . . .” (v. 10c). This is put in the present imperative form of the verb; suggesting a command that is to be kept habitually—as each situation requires. They were to be faithful to the fullest extent—just as He was (Hebrews 12:1-3). But even if they should be called upon to die for Him, He who was dead and is alive forevermore promises to reward them with the crown of life (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The crown that is spoken of is not the crown of royalty, but rather the wreath of honor that was given to the winner of an athletic race.


Jesus tells them that the one who overcomes in such persecution will not be hurt by the second death (see Revelation 20:6,14). We are not to fear the first death, as our Lord taught us (Luke 12:4-57). If we are in Him who conquered the first death then we have no need to fear those who may kill our body; nor have we any need to fear the far greater judgment of the second death.

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.