Learning From Suffering

Read: Rev. 2:8-17

Text: Rev 2:10 (KJV) ...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

Theme: Persecution will come both from outside the church, and from inside the church, but on the other side is eternal reward.


Last week we examined Christ's message to the church at Ephesus. They had "left their first love," and were warned to repent of this sin, remember where they had once been in their love for Christ, and return to doing the first works of their faith. We all need to be reminded from time to time of the tendency to "leave your first love," so that we might guard against it.

Today, we will examine Christ's message to two more churches, Smyrna and Pergamos. Both were churches tormented by persecution and suffering. Both were highly commended by Christ for their faithfulness in suffering. There was a major difference between the two, however, which we want to notice today.

SMYRNA (Rev. 2:8-11)

Smyrna was located 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a thriving seaport at this time, with a large Jewish population. Apparently this led to much religious persecution of Christians.

Today there is still a city of about 200,000 people (named Izmir), and there is a church there.

Notice the contrast between Ephesus and Smyrna:

Ephesus was at ease, with little or no persecution. Their devotion to Christ was waning and they were warned to repent of this sin. Today, Ephesus is in ruins with no Christian testimony.

Smyrna was suffering persecution. Believers were being imprisoned, and some were even martyred. And yet, Jesus had NOTHING bad to say about this church. The city remains to this day, and there is a Christian testimony to this day.

QUESTION - What do we learn from this contrast?

ANSWER - Persecution, tribulation, and suffering made this church BETTER, and made the believers STRONGER.

Though hard for us to understand, suffering is very often a good thing in the life of a Christian, and a life of ease is very often a detrimental thing. Jesus said, "Blessed and they which are pesecuted for righteousness' sake..." and God said, "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion." (Amos 6:1).

Let's think about this truth as we examine Jesus' message to Smyrna:

I. I have been there! (Rev. 2:8)

QUESTION - How did Jesus describe Himself in verse 8, and why would that description be meaningful to the suffering church at Smyrna?
A. I'm God
"First and last" = "alpha and omega" (cf. Rev. 1:8) - This is a reference to deity.
B. ... and I suffered...
"which was dead" (vs. 8)

1. Jesus knew about suffering.

Heb 2:10 (KJV) For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Isa 50:6 (KJV) I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

Isa 53:5 (KJV) But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

1 Pet 3:18 (KJV) For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

2. Jesus knew about dying

1 Th 5:9-10 (KJV) For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us...

C. ... and I made it...
"and is alive."

Rev 1:18 (KJV) I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

D. ... and I KNOW what you're going through.
1. Jesus knew they were being persecuted.

2. Jesus knew they were poverty stricken.

QUESTION - What did Jesus mean by His comment, "but thou art rich?"

QUESTION - How would understanding that Jesus KNEW their situation, be of any comfort to these people?

QUESTION - When we are suffering, does it help us to remember that JESUS KNOWS? How?

SONG - Does Jesus Care?

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained

Too deeply for mirth and song;

As the burdens press, and the cares distress,

And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark

With a nameless dread and fear?

As the daylight fades into deep night shades,

Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I've tried and failed

To resist some temptation strong;

When for my deep grief I find no relief,

Tho' my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I've said "good-by"

To the dearest on earth to me,

And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks -

Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

O yes, He cares; I know He cares,

His heart is touched with my grief;

When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,

I know my Savior cares.

II. Don't give up now! (Rev. 2:10)

A. Don't be afraid ("Fear none of those things...")
"God hath not given us the spirit of fear..." (EVEN WHEN THINGS LOOK BAD OUTWARDLY.)

ILLUS. Emmaus disciples

QUESTION - What two levels of suffering did Jesus say this church should be prepared to follow Him in? (vs. 10)

B. Follow me to prison.
1. Many in Smyrna would suffer this. (vs. 10)

QUESTION - We think of prison as a terrible thing to go through, but what has the result of prison been for the church?

QUOTE W.B. Riley - "It was in prison thta Joseph learned some of the best lessons of his life - courage, patience, interpretations. It was in prison that Daniel tested the truths that he had been declaring, and found in them no failure for God was wiht him. It was in prison that Paul and Silas caught th spirit of petition and from prison that some of Paul's most splendid Epistles were sent. It was in prison that John Bunyan saw the illuminated path of the just leading from Sodom to the Celestial City; and it was in prison that Adoniram Judson, great missionary, learned the nature of true trust in God, and came into the full experience of the same."

C. Follow me unto death.
NOTE - Some in Smyrna would die for Christ.

QUOTE - "According to Ignatius, not long after the book of Revelation was written, Polycarp, the famous church father, assumed the office of pastor of the church in Smyrna. Here he was a minister for many years, finally climaxing his testimony by dying a martyr's death. When asked by his heathen judges to recant his Christian faith, he repl.ied, 'Four score and six years have I served the Lord, and He never wronged me: How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?'"

QUESTION - What assurance did Christ give concerning their suffering?

D. Suffering is only for a limited time.
2 Cor 4:17 (KJV) For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

III. It will be worth it all.

A. Remember the prize - ETERNAL LIFE. (vs. 10)
B. Be thankful for the present benefits.
QUESTION - Although they are not explicitly referenced in our text, we can deduce that there are present benefits to suffering and persecution by comparing the letter to Smyrna with the letter to Ephesus. What are some of the present benefits to suffering?

1. Too busy to grow complacent (like Ephesus had done.)

2. Hurting too bad and needing too much to forget God.

C. Persecution and suffering, though it hurts now, is a gift from God, who understands how it truly benefits us.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,

For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid;

I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,

Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,

The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;

For I will be wth thee thy trials to bless,

And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;

The flames shall not hurt thee, I only design

Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

So, Jesus teaches us through His letter to Smyrna, that suffering is a good thing, and yields eternal benefits. In His next letter, to Pergamos, He addressed another church that was suffering great persecution. Again, He commended them for this, and encouraged them to remain faithful. However, unlike His words to Smyrna which contained nothing of rebuke, there is a warning included in His letter to Pergamos.

QUOTE J. A. Seiss - "Pergamos lies directly north of Smyrna, perhaps forty miles distant... At the time the (Revelation) was written, it was a sumptuous city, the home of rich chiefs, who had adorned it with magnificent residences, temples and groves. It had a library which rivalled that at Alexandria (200,000 volumes), a great medical school, and was famous for the rites which were there celebrated in honor of Aesculapius. It was not a commercial town such as Ephesus, but a union of a pagan Cathedral city, a university seat, and a royal residence... It was a city of heathen temples - a great Pantheon of pagan worship - a metropolis of sacred sensuality - and hence "Satan's throne." Now half buried arches, columns prostrate in the sand, and a few thousand Turkish and Greek huts, is about all that remains to mark the luxuriant and sensuous city, where the faithful Antipas suffered, and where so much glory reigned."

A small village - Bergama, still remains near the ruins of the ancient Pergamos, and a small, nominal Christian testimony still lingers there.

QUESTION - Jesus described Pergamos as "where Satan's seat is." What did He mean by this? ANSWER - Could have referred to a false god (such as Aesculapius, the serpent god), or others (there was a great temple to Zeus there). Most likely refers to being an idolatrous, wicked and horrible place, where Satan was in control. In that sense, anyplace could be described as Satan's seat.

QUESTION - What are some places that come to mind as "where Satan's seat is" today?


QUESTION - What similarities existed between Smyrna and Pergamos?

1.) Pergamum, like Smyrna, suffered great persecution. Smyrna was warned about martyrdom, but Pergamos had already experienced it.

(NOTE - Antipas means "against all," perhaps indicating that he stood alone against all odds and was martyred for his Lord.)

2.) Pergamum, like Smyrna, was strengthened by its persecution. Note the commendations.

"I know your situation." (vs. 13)

"I know that you are holding fast my name." (vs. 13)

"I know that you have not denied the faith." (vs. 13)

QUESTION - What major distinction existed between Smyrna and Pergamos? What was the thing that displeased Christ in Pergamos?

IV. We must beware of doctrinal compromise.

A. Wrong teaching had crept in.
(vs. 14 "doctrine" = "teaching")

2 Tim 4:3 (KJV) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

B. Right teaching is essential to the church.
1. If it is wrong, everything else is weakened.

2. If it is right, everything else is strong.

ILLUS. Dr. Charles Whitfield tells of a time when, after having preached what he thought was one of his better sermons, he positioned himself at the rear of the church to greet his parishioners. A kindly old saint took him by the hand and said, "Pastor, that was a wonderful sermon. It didn't have no doctrine in it or nothin." She thought she was giving him a complement, but he was saddened by it.

QUESTION - What are some examples of doctrinal compromise that we see in our churches today?

QUESTION - How can we guard against doctrinal compromise?

QUESTION - What did Jesus say would be the result if doctrinal compromise went unchecked? (vs. 16)

QUESTION - When a church takes a particularly adament stand on a fundamental of the faith, is this something we should commend them for or criticize them for?

V. We must beware of moral compromise.

QUESTION - Who was Balaam? (for your own study, read Numbers 22-24)
A. Balaam
1. A prophet who sold himself to the highest bidder, one who was in it for personal gain.

(Pictures the believer who tries to get something out of Christianity.)

NOTE - This was not the "doctrine of Balaam," though.

2. A prophet who counselled the people to intermarry with the heathen. (vs. 14)

NOTE - This WAS the doctrine of Balaam - moral compromise. He had used it as a means to help Israel's enemies defeat them.

QUESTION - How would you define moral compromise (or the doctrine of Balaam) in terms that we understand today?

QUESTION - What is the result to a church where the doctrine of Balaam (i.e. moral compromise) is tolerated, or encouraged?

B. Nicolaitans
This is believed to have been a sect that promoted a totally depraved and sensuous lifestyle. (The "if it feels good do it" crowd.)

QUESTION -HOW HOW HOW could the teachings and belief systems of such a depraved and immoral group have worked its way into the church at Pergamos?????

QUESTION - Could the tolerance of the "doctrine of Balaam" (or moral compromise) have led to the tolerance of the wickedness of the Nicolaitans? How?

QUESTION - Do we see parallels to our churches today? What are they?

QUESTION - How do we protect ourselves from this horrible moral compromise in the church of Jesus Christ today?


What is the point of all this?

Obviously, we are being taught in both of these letters that suffering and persecution are possibilities to us as believers. We are further taught that such suffering and persecution are temporal in nature, but yield everlasting rewards.

However, there is another truth here, and that is the importance of maintaining our purity even in the midst of persecution.

Perhaps the members of the church at Pergamos thought that since they were suffering so much for the cause of Christ, a little compromise would be overlooked? Jesus made it plain, that he was displeased.

What is the challenge to each of us?

... to trust God in times of suffering.

...but to remember that even suffering is a poor excuse for compromise.

We must keep ourselves pure both doctrinally and morally, always.

Please direct questions, comments, and submissions to William E. Johnson
Copyright 1997 William E. Johnson.